TSA Administrator Kip Hawley said passengers will now be able to carry on small scissors and tools, which he called "low threat items." Hawley said the new rules will allow screeners to concentrate on more dangerous threats by using new, less predictable techniques to ferret out potential terrorists.
"It is paramount to the security of our aviation system that terrorists not be able to know with certainty what screening procedures they will encounter at airports around the nation," Hawley said. "By incorporating unpredictability into our procedures and eliminating low-threat items, we can better focus our efforts on stopping individuals that wish to do us harm."
A statement from the TSA said screeners will do more frequent and more thorough searches of passengers and their belongings including "explosive screening of shoes, hand-wanding of passengers, enhanced pat down searches and inspections of carry-on bags."
The statement said the new procedures "will take only about a minute to complete."
In spite of assurances that the new rules will make flying safer, some flight attendants and lawmakers said they will oppose the new rules.
"I have not spoken to a flight attendant at any airline that isn't outraged by this," said Thom McDaniel, a Southwest Airlines flight attendants' union leader, told the Associated Press. "They want to focus more on explosives, but they're not even mentioning that the biggest threat to commercial aviation right now is still the fact that most cargo is not screened."
Two Democratic Congressmen, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Joseph Crowley of New York, said they will introduce a bill to reverse TSA's action.
"The Bush administration proposal is just asking the next Mohamed Atta to move from box cutters to scissors as the weapon that's used in the passenger cabin of planes," Markey said, according to the AP.
Justin Green, an attorney who represents families of three flight attendants who died aboard American Airlines Flight 11, said the families "are outraged that the TSA is planning on letting weapons back on board."
However, supporters argue that security changes since the 9-11 attacks make the taking over of an aircraft by armed hijackers highly unlikely, which will lead terrorists to try alternative methods.
"You have a huge army of pilots that are now armed, you have significant numbers of federal air marshals, you have secure cockpit doors, you have an alert public," said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who heads an aviation subcommittee in the House. "Terrorists aren't dumb, they can see what the weakness in the system is."
The airlines and the Airline Pilot's Association also reportedly support the changes. Bob Hesselbein, the APA's national security committee chairman, told the AP that whether an item becomes a weapon depends on the intent of a passenger.
"A Swiss army knife in the briefcase of a frequent flyer we know very well is a tool," Hesselbein said. "A ballpoint pen in the hands of a terrorist is a weapon."
If implemented, the new rules will go into effect on Dec. 22 and will allow passengers to carry scissors that are less than four inches long, and tools such as screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers that measure less than seven inches. Items with blades such as knives and box cutters, will remain prohibited along with saws, crowbars, drills and hammers.
The TSA also announced Friday that its airport screeners have been reclassified as Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), which the agency said would "empower" them to better use their training to stop threats to the transportation system.